In these days of ever-expanding inequities between the top 1 or 2 percent and the rest of us, one of the best ways to make sure the economy works well for everyone is to make sure that tax breaks and incentives benefit the people who need them most.

As Congress considers reforming the tax code in the coming months, it seems that the mortgage interest deduction is the sort of tax break that needs adjusting to reflect the needs of the current economy.

In 2014, it will cost the U.S. treasury at least $70 billion to provide this mortgage deduction to homeowners, a deduction that only 24 percent of taxpayers claim and that disproportionately benefits the wealthy.

Currently, mortgages of $1 million or more are eligible for the deduction. Reducing that threshold to $500,000 would save significant money at the federal level, money that could then be spent on ending homelessness. In Maine, fewer than 1 percent of home mortgages are valued at greater than $500,000.

Practically, we need only take a step back from the politics of this issue to consider the common sense inherent in reforming the mortgage interest deduction, a program that economist after economist labels as ineffective in encouraging homeownership.

Do our nation’s needs dictate more tax breaks for those at the highest income levels or a commitment to affordable homes for those struggling to survive? I hope Maine’s congressional delegation speaks out on this important issue.

John Bernard

South Portland

Waterfront ordinance a bad deal for S. Portland

I am a Maine native, a 35-year South Portland resident and have worked in the maritime industry for more than 40 years. I am writing this letter to express my concerns about the Waterfront Protection Ordinance that will be voted on by South Portland residents in November.

Maine citizens cannot withstand any preventable increase in energy or transportation costs, especially during these volatile economic times. I have worked on the Portland waterfront for many years, and as a business owner and concerned citizen, I know that predictable energy and transportation costs help our local economy and help Maine families prepare for our long cold winters.

I have worked at all of the South Portland waterfront oil terminals, and I can say that they have the strictest environmental and safety practices of all industries in the area.

These businesses represent more than 60 percent of the commercial tonnage moving through the Port of Portland and are reliable economic contributors to the Maine economy, and I have often heard many agencies characterize the oil terminals’ safety record as “outstanding,” including the Coast Guard and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

I think that the interests of the economy and the environment must be considered in all decisions. I am all for alternative fuel sources and encourage everyone to conserve energy, but South Portland voters should not vote in favor of the job-killing Waterfront Protection Ordinance because it is bad for Maine, the economy and the environment.

Please read and understand the proposed ordinance thoroughly before casting your vote.

If this ordinance passes, South Portland’s oil terminals will close. This means all of our fuels will be trucked from away, meaning we all pay more, while sending several of our neighbors out on the streets looking for employment elsewhere.

Capt. Bill Van Voorhis

South Portland 

Disaster an opportunity for Pan Am Railways?

During the past year, freight train traffic increased on the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway because of the crude oil trains that operated between the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and the Irving oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Some of these oil trains have operated on Pan Am rails through New England. But because of the recent fatal train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, all of the people who live there don’t ever want to see freight trains passing through their town again. I don’t blame them. The MM&A Railway line passes through mountainous terrain, so the numerous inclines and sharp curves can cause future runaway train wrecks.

If Rail World, which is affiliated with MM&A, does go bankrupt and out of business, why doesn’t Pan Am Railways purchase the former Bangor and Aroostook (Searsport to Millinocket) Railroad and abandon the former Canadian Atlantic (Sherbrooke, Quebec, to Brownville, Maine) line?

That route is simply not profitable, and with the loss of the oil train business, the remaining “bridge traffic” between Saint John and the rest of the United States could be rerouted on Pan Am rails. Any freight traffic that goes to (and from) Montreal could be interchanged at Danville Junction in Auburn, to the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad line.

By consolidating the former Maine Central Railroad lines with the Bangor and Aroostook route, Pan Am could resurrect the “old Maine Central Railroad” again. Pan Am might have to re-open the old Maine Central route that goes between Waterville and Brunswick (via Augusta) to handle the increased train traffic.

Augusta is one of the few state capitals in the U.S. that doesn’t have decent railroad service. But in the long run, changing that state’s railroad map would make more economic sense.

Michael Ballard


Obama shouldn’t negotiate with budget ‘terrorists’

It must be fall, because once again the extremist wing of the Republican Party is trying to hold the government budget hostage to its political end.

While this year it’s Obamacare, next year, the objective could be to repeal Social Security, and the year after that Medicare, and on and on. It’s the process that’s important, and this new process of hostage taking every year at budget time is the problem.

There are many definitions of the word “terrorist,” including “an individual who uses violence, terror and intimidation to achieve a result.” Any of the tea party Republicans can be said to fit this definition.

I would encourage President Obama not to try to negotiate over the budget and Obamacare. It sets a bad precedent for the future, and it has always been the policy of this country not to negotiate with terrorists.

Donna Brown